always creative non-fiction

The Pocket Watch

Amy Clarkin on how losing a precious pocket watch prompted her to realise that 'always' is a promise that cannot – and perhaps should not – be kept.

by Amy Clarkin

My favourite possession is a pocket watch necklace that my sister gave to me. A bronze, ornately engraved disc, it hangs from my neck with reassuring solidity. Its comforting weight bounces against my chest when I walk, the gentle ticking echoing the beating of my heart.

It is actually the second of two that she has given me.

‘I will treasure it forever,’ I told her when she presented the first, having carried it around the world for seven months while travelling. ‘Forever’ was revealed to be until the cord snapped while out for dinner with friends, sending me scurrying frantically under tables on my hands and knees, no thought given to the bemused looks of fellow diners or the fancy dress I was wearing. Devastated, blinking back tears, I had to accept that it was gone.

‘I will always mourn this,’ I vowed.

Yet time ticked on, and devastation faded to nostalgic twinges of regret. Present tense turned to past when it came up in conversation. That is the strange thing about time. No moment lasts forever, and recollections of a sensation are only ever echoes of the original feeling. Even if it feels real, it is still never an exact re-creation. Emotions, places, people, memories: these all continuously shift and change with time, like a rainbow of colours dancing on a sunlit window, or shadows leaping on a cave wall. No matter how fiercely we cling to moments, determined to preserve them, they are transient beings. Part of the beauty of life is the certainty that all times will pass. It gives us the strength to endure the hard times through an unwavering belief that nothing lasts forever. It gives us all the more reason to embrace the good times, to savour our experiences, to occasionally lose ourselves in the moment. We know that it will not always be like it is in that split second in time. It is an incentive to revel in the times as they come. It may be a bittersweet thought, but sometimes the best things in life are those that meld sweet and sour, joy and heartbreak, creating a melancholy power so beautiful that it hurts.

“That is the strange thing about time. No moment lasts forever, and recollections of a sensation are only ever echoes of the original feeling.”

‘Always’ is a craving and a terror. It is a cage and a haven. It is a promise that cannot – perhaps should not – be kept. What is forever? It is an ache, a longing, a dream. An illusion of permanence, a hope that good times will be preserved eternally like a photograph, an image frozen in time. Even if we were to stay perfectly still, things would change around us.  We chase Always, hoping to preserve the good in bubble wrap, carefully packed away and protected by rose-tinted glasses. Even if we could stop the world from turning, halt time in its tracks, stay lost in a moment forever, would we want to? Would it lose some of its magic, its joy, if we knew that it would never fade? Would we know to cherish it if we had nothing to compare it to? There is often much to be learned from the shadows, their leaping shapes casting darkness to better emphasise the light. What pleasure is there in a life of stasis?

Pain, fear, love, joy can all be fleeting. They ignite and fade in fits and starts, though there is always potential for them to return. The stars often disappear behind clouds but they are there, constellations shifting with the rotation of the earth. Leaves fall and re-grow, the sun rises and sets, the moon moves through its phases. The tides come in and drift out. There is comfort in their cyclical nature, their ever-shifting status. They are not static, but their changing rhythms are something that will exist, always. How could summer exist without winter? How could spring with its newly sprouted buds emerge if nature had not died in autumn? Would we really want to stay the same, year after year, no change, no progression, forever frozen in place, always?

A new pocket watch hangs from my neck now, another present from my sister that I cherish. Anxious fingers check my neck multiple times a day, confirming that the chain is still secure around my neck, determined never to repeat the devastation that accompanied the first loss. The hands have stopped, motionlessly pointing at the moment where time froze. I still wear it, aware that once a new battery is carefully placed inside the hands will resume their constant, relentless advance around the clock face. For now they are an illusion of suspended time, a fantasy of a place where moments can be captured forever. One day they will move again, rejoining the time that marches onwards regardless of their immobility. It is a reminder of the transience of time, the fleetingness of moments, and the importance of savouring each occasion as they occur. Every experience will one day be a memory, and as time moves on our recollections will change ever so slowly, ever so subtly, without us even realising. A mournful thought, but a hopeful one as well. Life is never stagnant, never without promise. Change will always come, and while it is often a bittersweet sensation, it is an exhilarating one too. Nothing stays the same forever; this is the one thing that we can be certain of – Always.


Amy Clarkin | @amyclarkin

Amy is a 27-year-old writer and film reviewer from Dublin. She can generally be found drinking coffee and reading, writing or watching stories.

 

1 comment on “The Pocket Watch

  1. Time is a lovely and scary muse. Your post reminds me that my husband has always wanted a pocket watch.

    Like

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